[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                          May 9, 2008

Virtual Route Clearance Trainer 
teaches tactics to troops

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

      It is a very realistic training option for Soldiers to learn about driving on routes to clear mines, specifically in-theater.

      It is in an indoor and climate-controlled atmosphere.

      It has the noise and movement of real combat.

      But it is NOT under a real threat of fire.

      It is at Fort McCoy.

      It's a Virtual Route Clearance Trainer.         

      The Virtual Route Clearance Trainer also is the only one in existence and will be at McCoy through August. It was first put into operation in November 2007 at Fort Hood, Texas.

Photo: Inside the Virtual Route Clearance Trainer, Spc. George Maness has his hands on the Buffalo steering wheel, Staff Sgt. Jason Sanchez works the remote control of the crane while instructor Jason Algarin watches as the trio "drives" along a street in Iraq. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Inside the Virtual Route Clearance Trainer, Spc. George Maness has his hands on the Buffalo steering wheel, Staff Sgt. Jason Sanchez works the remote control of the crane while instructor Jason Algarin watches as the trio "drives" along a street in Iraq. (Photo by Tom Michele)

      Inside two 53-foot trailers parked at Forward Operating Base Liberty in early April, Soldiers immediately inserted themselves into the virtual reality of mine detecting and handling vehicles.

      They instantly found themselves in near-real scenarios.

      Two Soldiers sit at a Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle (Buffalo) console. Three Soldiers sit at the console of a Medium Mine Protected Vehicle (RG-31), and three more at another RG-31 console. The RG-31 has a .50-caliber machine gun on a 360-degree turret.

      RG-31 commanders and machine gunners wear heads-up display video monitors to observe and control scenario action.

      And there is audio. Lots of audio. Loud audio when explosives "ignite" near the vehicle Soldiers are operating or when weapons are "fired."

      The instructor-operator of the trainer can program dozens of scenarios where the student trainee Soldiers "drive" detailed map routes through urban areas. The instructor serves as a company commander, ordering a squad to patrol from Point A to Point B and to wherever. Soldiers are given printed maps of the exact virtual terrain of cities and other battle locations where U.S. military warriors and coalition forces are deployed. Soldiers use their hands to drive the exact real steering wheels and to operate crane-arm controls, and machine-gun movement and firing.

      The trainer-operator directs the Soldier students through the scenarios, seeing how well and how fast the drivers, commanders and gunners detect, identify and react to threat situations.

      Training specialist and trainer instructor Jason Algarin of Raydon is at the control station.

      "We create scenarios that make our Soldiers think and then react to different situations," Algarin said. He listed some of the situations as "crowds disturbing the patrolling Soldiers, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hoax IEDs and insurgents with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades." The scenarios get complicated and furious and fast.

      Even observers in the trailers may have their heartbeat raised while watching the action as the three Soldiers in one RG-13 and the three in the other gun truck turn and jerk their heads to one side, lean to that side, and lurch in any one of 360 degrees, all simultaneously. The "gunfire" is loud.

      Soldier operators may discover they have run out of ammunition and need to order a resupply, then conduct that resupply.

      A Soldier conversing in his squad's after-action report session said, "This training shows how effective you need to be to communicate. This is the best situational training."

      Algarin said, "We are stressing the need for command and control and communicating with each individual Soldier in the vehicle and also the other vehicles in the squad. You need to call on the radio to divide up responsibilities. You must know your exact location, using maps. The last thing you want is to get lost. You must also be very aware of what you are looking for."

      Staff Sgt. Jason Sanchez, from Corpus Christi, Texas, and a combat engineer with the 836th Engineer Company of the Texas Army National Guard, who is training in support of deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom, said, "You must exercise command and control over several elements and be accurate in what you are saying, including in rehearsal, so you will give your guys confidence to maneuver. This simulator is as close to a live exercise as you can get."

      Sanchez, a 12-year member of the Army, said, "You must move, communicate, move, interrogate, move, do your mission, move, wait, destroy, move, wait, and be careful."

      Algarin said the biggest threat to U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is IEDs. "You must find them. Much of your mission is to provide safe passage for military supply routes for coalition forces and also local area civilians."

      Algarin also noted, "The Soldiers we have been training on this simulator love the training. They love it because it is a real-world scenario."

      The simulator provides quality training that eliminates the need for fuel, ammunition, smoke grenades and artillery simulators. "Just insert the Soldier into the simulator," Algarin said.

      Raydon developed the trainer specifically to prepare Soldiers to operate mine-protected clearance vehicles.

      According to a Raydon news release, Raydon President Kevin Freese said, "The development of mine-clearing vehicles into the theater of operations has proven to be invaluable to ensuring the survivability of our troops that might encounter complex ambushes and IEDs. Getting our troops trained to use this new technology is a critical need for our warfighters on the ground."

      Freese also said, "The current terrain in Iraq is littered with IEDs and mines, which not only kill and maim Soldiers, but also innocent civilians. Now, and in years to come, these mine-protected vehicles will continue to prove a vital element to protect individuals from these hidden explosives."

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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